Redevelopment of the former Guilford Transportation Industries lot along the Kennebec near the Sagadahoc Bridge is part of Bath’s planned Riverwalk project. File photo

Bath’s goal of building a public downtown riverfront walkway is finally taking shape after more than 10 years of planning.

City councilors voted 5-2 to sign a $1.1 million contract with Hebron-based J. Pratt Construction Inc. to build the first phase of the Riverwalk last week. The project is broken into two sections and slated to be completed this summer.

The first phase of the project, expected to cost just over $1.1 million, is funded by tax revenue from Bath Iron Works.

Bath City Manager Marc Meyers said conversations about creating a public riverfront path date back to the 1970s, but plans for the Riverwalk started to take shape around 2008. City officials put a conceptual design together and city councilors approved funding for the project in 2016.

Meyers said the sluggish development process is due to changes in staffing and multiple permitting processes the city had to go through with both the state and private property owners to use the land. The state owns the Guilford lot but is allowing the city to build the public park on the land, according to Meyers.

“This has been a process that — even by municipal government standards — has taken longer than we typically like to have these type of projects carry on,” said Meyers.

Though councilors approved the project contract last week, some voiced concerns over building materials planned for the boardwalk portion.

The existing plan states the boardwalk over the river on the northern part of the path will be built with pressure-treated lumber, but councilors raised questions about chemicals the treated wood could leach into the Kennebec River and how sustainable the material is.

Leiner told the board the pressure-treated lumber has a 15-20 lifespan on average, but didn’t know the environmental impact of pressure-treated lumber compared to other comparable materials.

“With any project, we’re working to ensure the work we’re doing is both environmentally friendly and keeping climate change and resiliency in mind moving forward,” said Meyers. “I appreciate the council’s concern with those matters and want to ensure we’re acting appropriately on those matters and other projects.”

Meyers said he and Leiner will discuss the environmental and cost impacts of other materials, such as heat-treated lumber or boards made from composite materials, with the construction company. Meyers said he will relay that information to the city council before a decision is made that could impact the cost or timeline of the project.

“What they and Marc will decide to do for action is up to them,” said Leiner. “My job is to get it built. If they end up making a decision, we’ll be happy to adapt what we’re doing.”

Meyers said the city hopes to eventually build a second part of the Riverwalk that would continue the path around the Kennebec Tavern Restaurant and Marina and run between the river and the Bath RiverWalk Condominiums. Plans for that portion of the Riverwalk haven’t been developed yet and the city doesn’t have an estimate of what that portion could cost, said Meyers.

The Riverwalk will begin in what is now a vacant dirt lot that spans from under the Route 1 overpass to just south of the Bath Freight Shed on Commercial Street. The vacant lot, known as the former Guilford Transportation Industries lot, will become a public park with about 20 parking spaces, landscaping, activities for children, lighting, a bike rack and seating, according to Bath Public Works Director Lee Leiner.

Leiner said a Japanese-style garden and torii gate is also planned for the Guildford lot to signify Bath’s close relationship with its sister city, Tsugaru, Japan.

The connection between the two cities dates back to 1889 when the three-masted ship Chesborough — built in Bath — ran aground off the village of Shariki, Japan. When Japanese villagers saw the damaged ship, they set out in boats to save the American sailors and managed to rescue three. One sailor, barely alive, later washed ashore. The villagers housed them, fed them, and nursed them back to health until they were fit to travel back to America. The townspeople also held services for the crewmen who perished.

The Riverwalk will meet the sidewalk that runs between Commercial Street and the Bath Freight Shed, where Maine’s First Ship and the Bath Farmers Market are based, until it connects to the existing Waterfront Park between Commercial Street and the river.

The second smaller piece of the project will be a boardwalk over the river that runs from the northeast corner of Waterfront Park and snakes behind a cluster of buildings known as “Bathport” that sits at 97-99 Commercial St.

Meyers said he hopes the waterfront path will “promote access to the river, improve recreational activities and walkability of the city, and help spur development along our waterfront,” which is now seen as an “underutilized asset to the city.”

“There are similar projects in other communities that have helped advance economic development opportunities for properties along the river, so we think this is beneficial in a number of ways for the city,” Meyers said.

Should the project move forward without delay, Leiner said crews can start work as soon as the weather allows and finish the first portion by June 15 and the second boardwalk piece by July 15, according to Leiner.

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